Getting a flu shot each year is the most important step in protecting against the flu. With the 2017-2018 flu season upon us, it is vital for all pregnant and breastfeeding women to receive a flu vaccine. Pregnant and postpartum (within 2 weeks after delivery) women, as well as children less than 2 years old, are at higher risk of complications from the flu.
When a pregnant woman gets vaccinated, she is protecting herself AND her baby. The flu vaccine helps the body make antibodies (things in the blood that protect against infection). These antibodies are passed from mom to her newborn to give the baby protection against the flu for the first several months after he or she is born. This protection is important because babies younger than 6 months of age cannot receive their own flu vaccine.
Breastfeeding mothers also can pass valuable antibodies to their infants through breast milk. Breastfeeding also has been shown to protect children against flu viruses by setting off the immune system to work better against viruses. As a result, exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of an infant’s life helps decrease the number of respiratory illnesses.
Pregnant women can receive the flu vaccine during any trimester when she is pregnant. Scientific studies support the safety of flu vaccine for pregnant women and their babies. A recent study suggested a link between back-to-back annual flu shots and miscarriages, but, the link may be influenced by other factors and, while it should prompt further study, there is no reason to change current policy recommendations. It is particularly important for new mothers to get vaccinated after delivery, if they did not receive a flu shot during their pregnancy.
Sometimes, pregnant and postpartum women may still get the flu. If that happens, these women should be treated with an antiviral medicine. Being on an antiviral medicine is not a reason to have to stop breastfeeding. Though it is recommended that an infected mother be separated from her infant for a short time, a healthy adult can still feed the infant with the mom’s pumped breast milk. Flu viruses do not pass through breast milk. Plus, do not forget that breast milk has antibodies to help fight flu.